Genre: Travel Narrative / Non-Fiction / Travel Memoir
Author: Dan Coxon
The cover of the book shows a peculiar landscape individualistic to the land of New Zealand, telling a lot about its culture and also shows a glimpse of what is inside the book. I think the cover fits perfectly to the essence of the book and its beautiful colours are a feast for the eyes.
The New Zealand All Blacks are one of the most recognisable team franchises in modern sport, and their performance of the Ka Mate haka prior to international matches is known across the globe. But how many of us know anything about the Maori people to whom this haka belongs?
Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand takes us on a three month journey around New Zealand, through the vineyards, over the glaciers, and across the fields of boiling mud. Freelance journalist and writer Dan Coxon does more than simply entertain us with anecdotes of his travels: he unravels New Zealand's complex history of migration and settlement, and reveals an intriguing story of British colonisation that still has repercussions today. Plus there's time for a rugby match or two along the way.
What do I look for in a travel book? For me, it should bring “sights and sounds” of the place to me. It should be able to describe the place in such a frank and candid manner which is easy to visualize so I can feel accustomed to the culture and history of that place, when I have not visited it in real. This book does all this perfectly and that too, with “a funny take” on things and events!
The title “Ka Mate” refers to the infamous tribal war dance that the All Blacks rugby team performs at the start of international rugby matches and which is mentioned repeatedly in the book. The book starts like an amusing storybook and not like a plain guide about New Zealand. The author takes us on a spellbinding voyage from North Island to South Island while displaying his queer eye and a quirky sense of humour.
His anecdotes are undoubtedly intriguing but they range from adrenaline-rushing events (like famous rugby matches and bungee jumping) to shocking and strange stories about the native people of New Zealand. At one moment the reader is overwhelmed by the thrilling and modern side of this country and at other times, he gets surprised by the dark and controversial side as the writer brings out the history of migration and settlement of Europeans in the country.
The author delves deep into the Maori culture and tries to know as much as possible about the people belonging to that community and the rumours surrounding them. He does not shy away from explaining his viewpoint of things and events influenced by what he witnesses during his trip. It shows the honesty and straight-forward approach of the writer which is a remarkable trait of being a good writer besides being an adventurous spirit.
The author constantly compares between the climate and landscape of North and South Island. He also brings out references to his Scottish heritage and English landscape. As he says in one of the chapters:
“Given my limited knowledge of New Zealand’s climate, this seemed to make some kind of sense, although privately I suspected that it might be God laughing at whoever named the “Desert Road”. Even England’s Lake District didn’t get rain like this.”
To be honest, I did not have much idea about New Zealand but after reading this book, it made me curious enough to go and visit this place. I am still in awe by its varied landscape where glaciers and volcanoes exist. My favourite chapter in the book is the one which captures the soul of “Christchurch” in all its vibrancy and I could not agree more with the author when he says:
“Strangely though, I found myself liking Christchurch more and more....The hookers, the party pills, and the street racers were ugly but at least they showed that the place had a pulse....at least it felt real. I remember Ian’s friend Dave telling me that it was a “shithole”....it turned out that I liked shitholes more than I’d thought....I liked life to be a little rougher around the edges.”
The author’s razor-sharp observations and outlook makes the book stand-out from usual travel literature available on book stands. The book is a must-read for travel enthusiasts, especially sport fans and “Lord of the Rings” movie fans! Due to its simple language and easy-to-understand style, it will attract a wide audience from kids to adults alike.